New submission aimed at reducing mine approval times

The Tasmanian state government has been blamed for allowing inefficiencies and legal challenges to cause protracted mine approval times.

The Tasmanian Minerals and Energy Council (TMEC) have suggested a new plan for streamlining the process, with a submission on the Draft Bilateral Approvals Agreement.

TMEC CEO Wayne Bould cited two main cases of delayed approvals, Shree Minerals and Venture Minerals.

Iron ore company Shree Minerals experienced an 11 month delay, with seven months due to “unnecessary Commonwealth delays” and four months due to legal challenges.

Even more marked were the delays to iron ore company Venture Minerals, which faced 2 years of dead time with 12 months to Commonwealth-related delays and 12 months to legal disputes with environmental groups.

TMEC said in the submission that it wanted to reduce “vexatious legal challenges” and speed up government approvals.

“We have earned an unfortunate but regrettably well-deserved reputation as being a place where things cannot get done,” the submission said.

“Investors are looking elsewhere and the Tasmanian economy is languishing as a result.”

Bould said the Tasmanian investment was suffering, and that the government needed to adhere to targets for reasonable approval times.

"It's that kind of element of sovereign risk [or] sovereign delay that's causing investors to be shaky about really investing in Tasmania," he said.

“One would expect that there is some sort of guarantee and likelihood that if you stick with the guidance and the framework, you provide the data as requested then you can rely on those approvals and assessments being processed for approval in a reasonable time frame.”

The submission proposes that each stage of approval should be protected against legal action after 14 days.

Bould said the new proposal has backing from the State Government, but Environmental Defender’s Office principle lawyer Jess Feehely said that any changes would have to allow for legal challenges if new information came to light after a given stage of approval.

“I do think there's a disproportionate emphasis on the impact that third party appeals have on the timing,” she said.

“It's an opportunity that's provided by the legislation and should be factored in, and it's also only one of several factors that influence timeframes for approvals.

“Decision-making authorities are often under resourced and simply don't have the staff that they need to make decisions as efficiently as they might like to.”

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